Development and evaluation of inexpensive planar radionuclide imaging cameras to support novel radiotracer discovery

Supervisors: Dr Adriana Tavares, Dr Giorgos Papanastasiou

Project description:

This PhD project is truly a multidisciplinary proposal that brings together cutting-edge specialised molecular imaging expertise from biology, medical physics and bioengineering disciplines. This project aims to develop software and new animal bed holders for cross-validation of static imaging and data from two different pre-clinical cameras, which will lead towards developing quantitative analysis of dynamic preclinical scintigraphy data.

Molecular imaging techniques, such as radionuclide imaging, are pivotal in biomedical research. They are valuable as diagnostic and prognostic tools; and serve as companion biomarkers in drug discovery programmes. Currently, a wide number of commercial systems are available for preclinical radionuclide imaging, such as Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography (SPECT) and Positron Emission Tomography (PET). Despite impressive performance, these systems have a high purchase and maintenance cost (>£300k), resulting in a high barrier to acquisition. In order to streamline the process of screening of novel compounds' biodistribution in vivo and replace ex vivo animal dissection studies, less expensive planar imaging solutions (c. £50k) have recently been proposed.

The only dedicated small animal planar imaging gamma camera, Gamma-eye, was recently developed by BET Solutions, Greece. Portable high-resolution planar imaging gamma cameras have also been recently developed, primarily for human intraoperative imaging (e.g. NebulEye, Gamma Technologies, UK). Despite these advances in planar scintigraphy instruments, the collection of small animal dynamic data is limited by suboptimal animal bed holders, whilst performance of these systems needs to be tested and characterised under standardised conditions. Moreover, to date, the development of these scanners has been focused on hardware implementations and basic level semi-quantitative software. In order to fully realise the potential and foster wider dissemination of these inexpensive radionuclide scanners (as replacement tools for screening novel radiotracers and drugs in lieu of ex vivo dissections), studies aiming at fully assessing and/or cross-validating scanner performance, as well as, improving animal handling conditions and data processing software for imaging, are urgently needed. This project aims to address that gap via a two-fold approach: (1) characterization of scanner performance with concomitant optimization of acquisition and analysis protocols; and (2) development of better heating systems and mice bed holders for longer dynamic scans, as well as, accurate image analysis software.

The student will be primarily based at the Edinburgh Preclinical Imaging (EPI, Dr Tavares) facility, a state-of-the-art infrastructure with a unique set up for in vivo preclinical imaging. Adjacent to this facility is the image analysis lab, part of the Edinburgh Imaging-QMRI (Dr Papanastasiou), where cutting-edge imaging software is available and novel software is continuously been developed. Through our collaboration with Dr Loudos (BET Solutions) and Dr Wilson (Edinburgh Molecular Imaging, EMI), the student will have access to two preclinical scanners for development of the proposed tools: the Gamma-eye and the NebulEye.

The student will have the opportunity to gain specialised skills in the following techniques: animal biology, medical physics, computer programming, quality assurance techniques, image processing and analysis, bioengineering and in vivo small animal imaging techniques.